Creating your perfect home environment "Ralpine Design, specialising in creating made-to-measure pieces of furniture and products for living."

Rob Leeman, furniture designer at Ralpine Design, demystifies the decision making process of choosing furniture.

Asking the right questions

When choosing furniture, as with any big decision, if you get it wrong its often not the answer that is incorrect, but the question that has been asked. A designer will tell you from the outset people often think they want a particular thing, but actually they need something completely different. As Henry Ford once said, "If I had asked people what they wanted they would have been a faster horse". Similarly, people all too readily end up buying something that is inappropriate for them, or at best not quite what they wanted. A good way around this is to understand quality, what that really means, and that it doesn't actually cost you the earth because true value transcends monetary cost.

Quality, the basics

When picking a piece of furniture, make sure that its quality is considered as well as its aesthetic appeal. Often people talk about "quality" as a ubiquitous, or umbrella term, to describe if something seems attractive to them. Be objective, compare products rigorously and look at how they are made. Look underneath a piece of furniture, look at the way its put together.

Quality also refers to any given piece of furniture and its ability to surprise you when you first use it and delight you on a daily basis. This is a not often talked about in scenarios where you normally buy furniture. Ultimately, creating real design quality and customer satisfaction starts with the client and their own unique story. You need to look for pieces that match your lifestyle, the way you live, and what you value on a very emotional level.


You might not know anything about construction techniques, but unlike lifting the bonnet of your car, after looking at the underside of several competing items you get to understand what is good and what is bad. Please note here; if you are price conscious then don't be fooled into thinking that the use of solid woods throughout are necessary for quality.  Most modern furniture uses a wide variety of mixed material in their construction, what you need to look out for is that they are sturdily built and that even the things you don't see have been well considered.

Fabrics and Upholstery

Similarly if you are shopping for upholstered furniture you need to assess fabrics and cushioning. Make sure you also ask about the thread count on soft furnishings and the wear rate. It is common to see durability ratings in terms such as "15,000 double rubs." This refers to a popular abrasion test to evaluate fabric strength. This determines how many double rubs (considered one complete motion back and forth) a sample of fabric can withstand before tearing.  Anything over 15,000 double rubs, is considered average, anything approaching 30,000 double rubs is of a very high standard.

Upholstery foam has two primary characteristics, density and firmness. Density or weight indicates the amount of product the foam contains; it does not pertain to firmness. Density is a measure of the quality of the foam. The higher the density rating, the better to foam will hold up with repeated use. Higher density means longer life and selecting high density foam can add years to the life of the upholstered item. Foam that is low in weight, even though it is firm, will not provide the support or lasting quality as softer, high density foam. Buying furniture with higher density foam will mean it will last longer.


Design and functionality

Deciding what you like from the point of view of style has never been easier, you will find a whole raft of interior design websites and magazines to help you decide what works for you. Its all important stuff, and it gets your creative juices flowing, but often some of the biggest and most important questions get neglected. Make sure you create a list that contains all of the things you are looking for from the point of view of the way you live your life. Here we have some tips to creating an appropriate list for living.

Lifestyle first

Be honest about your lifestyle. If you have two toddlers, a 90 Kg Pyrenean Mountain Dog and three cats, then you may want to reconsider white silk as a suitable couch covering. Similarly, an expensive solid Walnut 8 place table could also be seen as overkill if you rarely entertain guests or have a small living room. Start with the basics. Before you jump into more altruistic ideas, you have to start by considering your space and what you need to put in it.

Space and managing possessions

If you are looking to refine an interior space, rehousing all of the knick-knacks you have collected over the years, it is often useful to take photographs of everything you want to keep. You then need to think about how often you use them and where you regularly put them. This will give you a guide as to the logical location for items in your home and where you naturally put things and a great guide to the storage capacity requirements of a piece. You might not want the clutter, but you also don't want your slippers kept in the vanity unit under the bathroom sink.

List what the regular activities that you will do in any given room. This has great impact on what you will be placing in the room, like the modular cabinet for the television set, storage units, or more elaborate items such as bespoke fitted units where you can have your evening apero.

Decide what's most important

There's no rule that you have to buy everything at once. Start with items that need replacing first, and build the room (slowly if necessary) around pieces you love and have a unique value to you. Set a price limit ahead of time but be realistic. As your understanding of what is better for you, and hence you start to value its design more, your aspirations will increase. Look for the best values in your price range based on suitability for living and creativity. Be patient, shop around and take advantage of free services where you can. Many companies have free design consulting, product brochures, or at least examples of previous projects to inspire you and offer to help you understand what you actually like. As a consumer it is your duty to yourself to learn to be an expert on what you're looking for.


Measure your living room and draw a floor plan of it or you can create a sketch of it on a piece of paper. Then plan the traffic using your plan and draw how you will be placing your furniture in it. This will give you a good picture of the room and its layout based on how you live.

The floor plan can be a formal design, or you can simply draw it out roughly on a piece of a paper. For a better assessment of your room plan, you can request a 3D design of it with the furniture included. A good furniture or interior designer can help you plan more effectively. Then, after getting the design and the plan, make sure that you stick to the plan when to move to buying furniture.

Consider existing architecture

It is very important that you look at the existing architectural elements in your house. This includes columns, windows and other decidedly difficult things to ignore. With your plan you can start considering these architectural forms, because if you fail to look at them, your furniture might not look good in the space. For example if you have a very geometric, or square, archway it might not be suitable to put a highly figured and shapely sofa underneath it.

Do not overdo

As always, you should avoid overdoing the design of your living room by placing too much in it. Use your floor plans, make sure you can still move freely around the room and that the furniture still allows lots of light and space. Think about where natural and artificial sources of light will emanate from and allow the passage of these to be as interrupted as possible. As with defining walkways and areas where foot traffic will pass through, using the plan to keep the interruption of light to a minimum is very important.

Coordinate the pieces

In choosing furniture, do not just look at individual rooms in isolation. You also need to make sure that things you are considering match or it complement with the furniture in other areas of the house especially if you have an open layout where all the furniture can be seen. There has to be a coherent look in your furniture choices even if the styles contrast. Remembering of course that contrast, light and shade, is a very powerful tool employed by designers to increase the potential for creative flair. But without a good plan and a deep understanding of the scenario these decisions can often be poorly made.

In conclusion

Do not just get whatever type of furniture is the cheapest. Buy pieces that have the best quality you can afford because furniture is an investment. See to it that you will not just look at the design but you also check on how long the furniture could still be in good condition despite prolonged usage. That is why, the materials used should be one thing that you look into.

High quality pieces may cost more but because you chose them in an informed manner hence, their inherent value to you will be much higher. If you go through the process properly the experience will undoubtedly be much more enjoyable, release unexpected levels of creativity, and afford you the chance to make informed decisions. You will be able to understand how furniture suits you and your lifestyle and have confidence when buying. 


Article submitted by: Rob Leeman, furniture designer at Ralpine Design.
Copyright © 2014 Ralpine Design
"Ralpine Design specialising in creating made-to-measure pieces of furniture and products for living."
Tel: 0041 (0) 76 265 46 68


Author: robert leeman

“Ralpine Design specialising in creating made-to-measure pieces of furniture and products for living.”

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